[developers] ErgSemantics/Basics page (Was: predicate naming in MRS)

Emily M. Bender ebender at uw.edu
Fri Feb 26 22:24:37 CET 2016

Dear Ann (& developers by cc),

Thank you again for your feedback on the ESD pages.  We expect these pages
to be
something of a work in progress for quite a while and we always welcome
(though as you can see, it may take us a while to react).  In part spurred
by your comments,
we have done some non-trivial editing on the ErgSemantics/Basics page, and
would like to invite further feedback on this page in particular now:


As you note, the goal of that page is to give a simple and concise
explanation of aspects
of the representations which serves as background to more detailed and
focused discussions
of the analyses of particular phenomena.  That said, while trying to keep
things simple,
we'd also like to not be wrong :)

With thanks,
Emily, Stephan & Dan

On Fri, Jan 1, 2016 at 7:37 AM, Ann Copestake <aac10 at cl.cam.ac.uk> wrote:

> I'll have a go, but I do realise from previous discussion that you are
> intentionally simplifying, and that some cases where I regard something as
> an unhelpful oversimplification, you may still think this is justified.
> So, if I may, let me take one example from that page and try an
> explanation, and then see whether we can come to some mutual
> understanding.  This isn't actually anything to do with predicate naming
> conventions, but I want to take a more straightforward case:
> The semantics corresponding to nominals prototypically involves an instance
> variable and a (generalized) quantifier, which jointly we take to denote
> a *set*, possibly one of singleton cardinality (for quantifiers introduced
> by singular determiners, e.g. *a* or *this*) or even an empty set (for
> the *no* quantifier, as in for example *no dogs bark*).
> I take it here that you're talking about the semantics of a phrase like
> "every dog".  If we're interpreting `every' as an ordinary quantifier,
> `every dog' could be written as \lambda P \forall x [ dog(x) => P(x) ]  -
> it's of type <<e,t>,t> since it requires something of type <e,t> (e.g., an
> intransitive verb, like barks) to give a truth value.  In fact, `every dog'
> denotes the set of all sets of which the set of dogs is a subset (so it
> does denote a set, but not, I think the one that your text would imply).
> With generalised quantifiers, something similar is going on, except that
> the quantifier is expressed in terms of the cardinality of the set of dogs
> and the set of Ps.
> Of course, in MRS, the BODY of the quantifier is missing (and this
> actually means that we can do the composition more straightforwardly though
> I won't go into that here). But that doesn't mean that the MRS for `every
> dog' denotes the set of all dogs.  The semantics we've given for MRS is not
> in terms of real world denotation at all, but in terms of how it
> corresponds to a set of expressions in some object language, which might be
> predicate calculus with generalised quantifiers, but does not have to be.
> So there is an inconsistency with the MRS paper.  (For me, this matters a
> lot, not least because this object language doesn't work as a general
> account of semantics, although it has its uses.)
> But we have never provided a way of giving a semantics for partial MRSs in
> terms of lambda expressions.  (We didn't develop an underspecified form of
> lambda calculus although, if I remember correctly, that's what UMRS did.)
> Anyway, even talking in an underspecified representation, because the body
> of the quantifier is uninstatiated, I think I would still say that an
> informal gloss of the meaning of `every dog' has to be the same as in the
> fully scoped version - i.e., as above, the set of all sets of which the set
> of dogs is a subset.
> So, technically, one cannot talk about an MRS denoting anything in a model
> corresponding to the real world.  If you decide to make a loose translation
> of a partial MRS into the lambda calculus rough equivalent, that's OK,
> though I think you would have to make it much clearer that is what you are
> doing (and the gloss you've given here is incorrect, even viewed in that
> loose way).  To draw an (imperfect) analogy - it's a bit like talking about
> an HPSG in terms of phrase structure trees.  It can be a useful thing to
> do, both in terms of getting points over to non-specialists and in talking
> informally about some analyses, but it's vital that it is clear in such a
> discussion that we are only using the trees as some sort of abbreviation
> and that a syntactician unfamiliar with HPSG does not go away with the idea
> that we are really manipulating trees.  Something that I hope we (possibly
> me and Guy) can do in advance of the LREC tutorial is to show a translation
> of an ERS fragment into something like a database query application - where
> quantifiers actually matter ... This might make all this clearer.
> As I say, I can understand if your reaction to these comments is that
> you're just trying to give an intuition of ERS for people who know no
> formal semantics.  I don't personally think it works to do this (or at
> least, a really informal account might work, but I'd avoid talking about
> denotation in that case) but I understand you feel it is helpful.  If you
> do want me to go through line-by-line and explain the formal issues with
> other parts of the pages, I can do that, but I don't think I should start
> that exercise unless we've got a common idea about the objective.
> Happy New Year!
> Ann
> PS - in the paper that Dan and I co-authored in Corbett and Kibort's
> `Feature' volume (which I should put on my website) there is a discussion
> of what might be involved in `translating' ERS into a formal account of
> plurals.  Perhaps this should help to indicate why I think it is a very
> positive feature of *MRS in general (and ERS) that it can be translated
> into different object languages.
> On 01/01/2016 00:32, Stephan Oepen wrote:
> a happy new year, everyone!
> My problem with this document is not so much that it's ERG-specific but that
> it is in contradiction to the MRS paper in various places.  Which is
> unfortunate.
> i authored that page jointly with dan and emily, and i do not recall
> intentional deviations from the various publications on MRS.  it would
> be helpful for us to know the specific contradictions you have in
> mind.
> all best, oe

Emily M. Bender
Professor, Department of Linguistics
Check out CLMS on facebook! http://www.facebook.com/uwclma
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